Liminality & Reality

E.M Forster uses motifs such as the concept of liminality in terms of threshold spaces such as windows or dreams to convey the emotions of his characters, specifically Maurice. Maurice realizes he is drawn to the dark because he doesn’t need to hide, yet, simultaneously, he yearns for open fields and spaces to feel free, constructing a substantial contradisctiontion. However, this contradistinction echoes Maurice’s mind, as he is still attempting to define himself as the novel continues and is forced to learn through the situations he is put in. Maurice and Clive’s relationship is incredibly detrimental to Maurice’s wellbeing; although it is through Clive that he finally begins to understand his sexuality, it is also through Clive that he begins to lose himself. Forster uses Scudder to demonstrate the depth of Maurice’s transition into his own independent self, free of Clive’s voice. Maurice is finally secure within his realization of queerness, and Forster utilizes their sexual relationship to personify Maurice’s realization and security. Forster intentionally creates a plethora of parallels between Maurice and Scudder and Maurice and Durham’s consummation in order to illustrate the considerable development of Maurice’s maturity, independence, and comfort in his sexuality.

Although the emotional responses in the two scenes are distinctly divergent, the foundations between the two are clearly parallel with the use of the liminal space windows and Maurice’s dreams offer, in addition to the concept of light and dark. The word ‘Liminal’ is actually founded from the latin word ‘limina’ (threshold), which serves to reinforce the point that the dreams and window offer an almost purgatorial space, neither here nor there. The windows, perhaps more physically, epitomize this idea. A window, unlike a door, is able to be both a barrier and access point simultaneously, where doors are one or the other. The window is the threshold to the soul, and in both of these scenes, the window is used instead of the door. Forster created this parallel purposefully, due to the homosexual nature of these relations, the characters do not have the privilege to use a door, a space that either provides admission or exclusion, and are instead forced to inhabit a liminal space because their society does not allow them to exist. The window allows them to exist in a transitory capacity, ensuring that their interactions do not have the same severity of reality attached to them as the door would have required. Moreover, both interactions occur after Maurice awakes from a dream, another liminal space. In this half-awake reality, the subconscious intertwines with consciousness, and the characters have access to sexual interactions that true reality would otherwise inhibit and limit. Finally, darkness also gives the characters the opportunity to explore detachment from reality in both scenes. Darkness provides freedom from the constant scrutiny of life and light, Maurice views it as a space that is once again free of the restraints of daylight. It is during the night that Maurice feels most true to himself, because he can define what his reality actually looks like since it is too dark to truly discern. It is only when he inhabits these liminal spaces that Maurice has the power to define himself and his world, and Forster insures that both consummation scenes occur during moments where a veil partially obscures reality, giving both parties access beyond the barriers that normally confine them.

Due to the similarities of the foundations of both scenes, Forster is able to point out the striking differences between the two moments, most significantly, Maurice’s newfound maturity and emotional depth. In the first scene, it is Maurice that “spr[i]ngs” into “the window of Durham’s room,” yet in the second, Maurice “fl[i]ngs wide the curtains” and it is Scutter that climbs to him (66,191-192). Maurice is now the one behind the threshold of the window, no longer desperately afraid of rejection. Scudder comes to him, not vice-versa. Confidence replaces his old insecurities and he finally achieves control over the situation, demolishing the old power dynamic that was once in place with Clive. In the first scene, Maurice climbed through the window to a prison of his own making, and now the room is simply a space for him to have absolute freedom in his interactions with Scutter. Instead of holding him back, the privacy of the room offers him the chance to be genuinely true with himself. This is further exemplified throughout the actual interactions between characters in terms of the depth of their consummation. Clive and Maurice simply share a chaste kiss, reminiscent of their reserved and detached relationship. With Scudder, however, Maurice has gained the freedom and independence to have sex with his new lover, signifying the vast journey he has made from his first experience with a man. Maurice is no longer “terrified at what he must do” as he was with Clive, but instead feels confident and sanguine in his situation with Scudder (66). He has inhabited “the darkness where he can be free,” and is, for the first time, completely cognizant and aware of desire; Maurice has finally reached the state of free vulnerability, and is no longer afraid to unapologetically be himself.

Love as a Social Revolution in ‘Maurice’ vs ‘Pride and Prejudice’

Both Maurice by E.M Forster and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen are the stories of revolutionary love, capable of inspiring moral improvement and moral compromise within relationships. Specifically, it is the stories of Maurice and Alec and Lizzy and Darcy that are able to inhabit such a revolutionary space because they are so deeply rooted against the hegemonies of their time. Maurice was a character originally written at a time when homosexuality still had not been decriminalized in Britain, the novel itself was published posthumously because Forster feared for his life. Lizzie utilized her agency and choice in order to find love at a time in British society when women were expected to be completely and absolutely subservient to the men around them. According to literary critic Northrop Frye successful romance at the end of the novel signals a “movement from one kind of society to another” where “the new society crystallize[s] around the hero.” However, it is imperative to note that to Frye, “romance” is defined as “works concerned primarily with an idealized world,” and Maurice was not written into this ‘idealized world’ because he was gay, and Forster, despite giving him a happy ending, was careful not to idealize his characters. Forster focuses the novel on Maurice discovering his sexuality, rather than the consequences that could potentially come of that decision, meaning that Maurice’s relationship with Alec, although it provides some social commentary at the end of the novel through a conversation with Clive, is not centered on the social reactions to Maurice’s homosexuality. Instead, it is a very individual journey he experiences with one or two close friends. Due to the literary limitations placed on Forster at the time the novel was written, Maurice and Alec, although evidently still happy, are unable to change the fabric of the world around them, while Lizzy and Darcy, still relatively heteronormative, can be considered “successful” under Frye’s definition.

The first part of Frye’s definition pertains to the ability of a successful union to change one or both of the people involved, and clearly, Maurice, Lizzie, and Darcy all undergo major shifts of society within themselves. After her original rejection of Darcy, Lizzie receives a letter from him explaining his past and his decisions. She immediately begins to contemplate her “prejudice[s]”, and attempts to mature in order to understand why she believed she had “every reason in the world to think ill of [him].” (141, 134). Without Darcy, Lizzie would have lost the opportunity to realize her judgement was flawed, and that her own ego barred her from truly being able to observe those around her. Moreover, without Lizzie’s initial rejection, Darcy would not have realized his intrinsic fault: pride. In order to be with the one he loves, he must recognize both his solipsism and egotistical nature, therefore; insuring that both of them must undergo moral compromise for the better. Instead of realizing his flaws, Maurice must discover himself in order to have a successful relationship with Alec. The entire novel is the story of Maurice understanding himself, and only in the end, when he is truly happy with who he is, is Maurice able to begin his relationship with Alec. He is finally cognizant why “could not himself relate” to diagrams of heterosexual sex drawn in the sand. He “understood” his “secret life”, it was the “dreams” at the beginning of the novel: “part brutal, part ideal.” All three characters genuinely transitioned into superior versions of themselves, and without their relationships, Maurice, Lizzie, and Darcy would not have been able to change themselves.

Lizzie and Darcy, unlike Maurice and Alec, are able to change the social fabric of the society they inhabit, truly creating a revolutionary love between them. Their love is not just revolutionary in its own right, but it has the power to revolutionize others, most notably Georgina and Jane. Lizzie’s relationship with Darcy “astonish[es]” Georgina because she had never before seen a “woman…take liberties with her husband,”; what was once a foreign concept in patriarchal Britain, now was in her own home, and because of Lizzie’s influence, Georgina would grow up knowing the strength of her agency as a woman. (265). Moreover, Darcy and Lizzie’s marriage is what allows for the marriage between Jane and Bingley, and Jane’s newfound opinions and view of herself reflect upon many of Lizzie’s actions, and illustrate once again Lizzie and Darcy’s ability to change the world around them. Furthermore, Lizzie’s resolute determination to marry for love changes the social fabric in itself. She unapologetically refuses to conform to the patriarchal hegemony surrounding her, rejecting two proposals in the process and awaiting for a partner who is ready to be her equal, not just her husband. Her determination inspires the female characters of the novel, while her rejections teach the men how to behave and treat the women in their own lives; therefore, truly revising the definition of the social order in her society.

While Maurice the novel changes the fabric of British society, Maurice the character does not have the opportunity to revolutionize his own society as a result of his sexuality, so, although under Frye’s definition Maurice and Alec are not ‘successful’, the two characters evidently are. In his lifelong struggle to understand his sexuality, Maurice is often trapped within liminal spaces, forever tormented between his internal and external selves, desperately seeking another human with whom he can truly be himself. Alec is the only person Maurice has ever truly opened up to; he has finally inhabited “the darkness where he can be free,” and found freedom in another person. In the initial stage of their relationship, Maurice vulnerably asks Alec if he had “ ever dream[ed] [he] had a friend…Someone to last your whole life and you his.” Maurice had not yet realized that Alec was that friend, and that they would spend their “whole life” together. The novel ends with the pair resolving to spend the rest of their lives with one another regardless of the barriers obstructing them; they disappear from society together, choosing to spend the rest of their days in the greenwood. Maurice realizes he’s no longer “afraid or ashamed” because “the forests and the night were on his side”, the “greenwood” offers a space of freedom similar to the forests Shakespeare’s characters would once fall in love in, utterly seperated from society and court. In order for Maurice and Alec to have upholded Frye’s theories, the lovers would have had to attempt some form of public recognition, say by announcing to the public or perhaps Cambridge or by living together within society. However, Forster could not have possibly written such an ending to his novel without completely losing his characters and his main themes, and of course, his determination for a happy ending. In fact, it’s the book itself that upholds Frye’s definitions. Maurice, specifically at the time it was written, destroys heteronormative barriers and clearly provides social commentary on British society in the 1910’s.

Both Forster and Austen were revolutionary writers of their time, years ahead of the societies they lived in, and predicting the future decades before they took place. Furthermore, both authors wrote truly beautiful romances centered around characters who were forced to evolve and change in order to have successful relationships. One relevant question, here, is, “Can love change the world in which our characters inhabit? In other words, can love be a social revolution in its own right?” In line with Frye’s definition of a successful relationship, a social revolution requires inspired mutual improvement in self and in society. And, through the careful analysis of both Pride and Prejudice and Maurice, it has been determined that the answer to that question is yes. Love is a social revolution, and while it clearly was for Lizzie and Darcy, it also was subtly a revolution in its own right for Maurice and Alec, through the publication of the book itself and its dedication to a happier year.